Exclusive: Meet the first startups in Kaplan’s TechStars-powered ed tech accelerator

The power of TechStars is being put to the test by the demands of education. On Tuesday, the Kaplan EdTech Accelerator, powered by the well-known Boulder, Colo.-based startup program, will announce its inaugural cohort of companies.

Back in February, the two companies announced the new New York-based program, which combines Kaplan’s expertise and cachet in for-profit education with TechStars’ experience mentoring and training up-and-coming startups. In addition to its debut class of 10 startups, which was selected from an applicant pool of 350, the companies announced that they have upped the amount of funding available to each startup. On top of the $20,000 given to each company in exchange for six percent equity, TechStars and Kaplan are offering each startup a $100,000 convertible note.

As we’ve noted previously, competition among ed tech accelerators is ramping up, with a handful of programs nationwide courting education entrepreneurs, including two in New York alone. But the Kaplan TechStars program, which kicks off today, now offers startups the most generous funding package (surpassing Palo Alto-based Imagine K-12, which increased its funding to $100,000 earlier this year).

The new classes in the Kaplan EdTech program run the gamut from an online learning program for military veterans to a startup aiming to “jailbreak” the college degree. But they seem to target the lifelong or informal learner more than the formal student or classroom teacher. Just three of the startups in the group, for example, appear to be tools for classroom teachers, which contrasts with the composition of startups in programs like Imagine K-12, Socratic Labs and LearnLaunchX.

But, that’s not entirely surprising given that Don Burton, the managing director of the Kaplan TechStars program, told us in an interview earlier this year that he believed that innovation will likely start in informal education markets and then move to the formal markets. Still, speaking about the new cohort, he said the program supports the institutional system as well.

“Although we do embrace both formal and informal, we believe there will be a transformation from compulsory education (as traditionally practiced in the formal institutional schooling arena) to interest-based education where the experiences provided our children (learners) will need to be so compelling and engaging that the learning will be highly desired and sought after,” he said. “We do not want to invest in automating what is currently being done in schools but to re-imagine what education can be.”

Here’s a look at all of the companies in the new class:

Degreed — As educational opportunities explode with new online learning options, San Francisco-based Degreed wants to rethink what it means to earn credit. The startup, which aims to “jailbreak” the degree, provides an online service that tracks, scores and validates all of a user’s educational experiences. (We’ve covered the startup in the past if you want to learn more.)

Flinja — Something like a TaskRabbit for college students, Flinja gives students a marketplace for listing services they can provide, which alumni and others in their college networks can then pay for through the site.

MentorMob — A crowdsourced learning site, MentorMob lets anyone create “playlists” of content on a wide range of topics.

ModernGuild — Through its online job prep program, ModernGuild helps college students connect with professionals for personalized, career coaching. (We’ve written about this company previously, too, if you’re curious to read more.)

panOpen — Given the rise of Open Educational Resources (OER), panOpen wants to make it easier for educators and institutions to use free textbooks.

PlayPowerLabs — Launched out of Carnegie Mellon University, PlayPowerLabs makes engaging math games that are aligned to Common Core state standards for K-8 education.

Ranku — The startup isn’t sharing too much about it what it does quite yet, just this: “Online degrees you can be proud of from schools you trust.”

Uvize — Based in Boulder, Colo. (also home to TechStars’ headquarters), Uvize helps military veterans prepare for college with academic instruction, assessment and coaching.

Verificient Technologies — With the growth in online courses, Verificient plans to offer identity verification, proctoring and credential authentication services.

 Whipsmart — With an online news site for kids, Whipsmart offers teachers a literacy tool that enables kids to read nonfiction content adapted to fit their reading levels.